CRAWFORD COUNTY - After the recent loss of two employees of the Crawford County Health Department, a major part of the county board personnel committee meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 29 was devoted to finding solutions to the problems created by losing those long-serving employees.
As reported previously in the Independent-Scout, Crawford County Public Health Director Gloria Wall was forced to retire at a November 14 meeting of the personnel committee. Crawford County Public Health Nurse Judy Powell was discharged at the same meeting. Both the retirement and the discharge were approved by the committee.
At the most recent personnel committee meeting, Crawford County Director of Human Services Dan McWilliams, who is also now serving in a role leading the health department, reviewed the situation with committee members.
While the county board personnel committee envisions merging the two departments and having McWilliams act as the director of both that is still a work in progress. In fact, the department merger was addressed later in the personnel committee. While it appears McWilliams will probably be the new head of a merged department, there will still be a need for a state-certified local health officer to be responsible for health matters.
According to state statute, that local health officer must have a bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited institution with a public health nursing program or a bachelor’s degree in public health, environmental health, the physical or biological sciences or a similar field.
The kicker for the local health officer is that state statutes require three years of experience working with public health agency, including responsibility for a communicable disease prevention and control program, preferably in a supervisory or other administrative position.
McWilliams, whose expertise is social work, acknowledged that meeting the three-year public health agency experience rule might be a stumbling block going forward for the county. He suggested the county might seek a variance to this requirement from the state.
McWilliams noted that the pay grades of Richland County for a Director of the Health Department was $63,490 and Adams County was $66,000. The pay for Wall’s position in Crawford County was $66,811, which was in line with nearby counties for the position.
McWilliams told the committee that the likelihood of hiring a second nurse (to replace Powell) was unlikely. He said hiring someone as a sanitarian or someone with an environmental health background was more likely. However, this background would limit the work they could do within the department.
McWilliams said the ideal candidate would be an RN but “this is not easy to recruit.”
Also tasked with seeking help from someone who could serve as an interim health officer or director of the health department, McWilliams told the committee he had found no one. He called 15 counties seeking interim services for management of the health department and was told no by each county. In fact, several counties told him they were currently operating in an interim stage themselves and had been recruiting to fill the positions for six months to over a year in some cases.
Other help for finding a interim local health officer might come from current public health nurses from other counties or from interviewing the two remaining public health nurses internally about their interest and ability to serve as the local health officer.
The gap between the salaries of public health nurses and health department directors was $18,000 in the state and about $14,000 in Crawford County, according to McWilliams.
Personnel committee chairperson Gerald Krachey asked if the two nurses remaining in the department could be qualified to serve as the public health officer.
McWilliams said there was still a last call to LaCrosse County seeking an interim health officer that had not gotten a response yet.
Resumes for the two remaining public health nurses could be reviewed by the state to see if they were qualified, McWilliams told the committee.
If one of the nurses was appointed to be the local health officer on an emergency basis, an option could be paying overtime to that person for the public health officer work, according to McWilliams.
The committee then discussed what would be necessary to combine the two departments. They were told the county corporation counsel had drafted a resolution that would allow combining the two departments if it was passed by the county board at its December meeting.
Committee member Carl Orr moved to send the resolution creating the combined Human Services and Health Department to the whole board for its consideration. The motion was seconded by Gari Lorenz and passed by the committee.
In suggesting combining the two departments, McWilliams emphasized that public health must remain a priority as the two departments are combined.
Committee member Larry Kelley said he thought combining the departments was a good idea. Committee member Brad Steiner noted many counties already have setup the combined departments.
McWilliams told the board he was approached by Richland County, who reached out with an idea to regionalize the health departments, sharing a public health officer. He said he did not personally favor such an idea. The committee seemed to agree and no one spoke in favor of pursuing the idea.
The committee then voted to go into closed session to consider a personnel matter. When they returned to open session, they approved recommending raising McWilliams salary about $4,000 to $90,000 annually based on his running the combined human services health department. The suggested raise would be presented to the Crawford County Board’s Finance committee for approval.